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Health gets two seats at top table

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Health issues appear unlikely to wither because of Prime Ministerial neglect under the Abbott Government.

As freshly-installed Health Minister Peter Dutton noted at a health conference earlier this month, while Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s responsibilities might have expanded since he was last in Government, the former Health Minister retains a keen interest in his former portfolio.

“One of the aspects with having a Prime Minister who has been Health Minister is that he is really well informed,” Mr Dutton said, adding that virtually every day since he has come to office he has received phone calls from Mr Abbott on health issues, as well as numerous text messages.

This level of Prime Ministerial engagement could have implications for the speed with which health policies and issues are brought before Cabinet for deliberation, and the degree of attention that they receive.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said that, when he was Health Minister in the Howard Government, Mr Abbott had shown himself to be an effective Minister responsive to doctor concerns, not least in his handling of the medical indemnity crisis.

But Dr Hambleton nonetheless cautioned that there was unlikely to be any significant increase in resources for the health system,  particularly in the short term.

“The now-Opposition [the ALP] left a lot of fiscal traps behind, and some of them are legislated in place and will need to be legislated away, like the $2000 cap on tax deduction for self-education expenses,” he said.

The accuracy of this warning was borne out last week by the response of Mr Dutton to concerns about the effect of the eight-month Medicare rebate freeze on patients, who were likely to face a lift in out-of-pocket expenses following an increase in recommended GP consultation fees.

“The rebate was frozen by Labor and, given the nation’s record debt, it is hard to see how that can be undone,” the Minister told News Limited. “Sadly, families are going to be paying for Labor’s debt for a long time, including when they go to see their doctor.”

Adrian Rollins